A.K. Dolven

A.K. Dolven’s paintings are moving—in both senses of the word. The Norwegian artist, who resides in Berlin and London, started out as a painter, but in recent years she began using video as well. While the paintings reveal a Minimalist aesthetic, the videos offer resonant figurative images taken from the history of painting. Dolven’s fidelity to this tradition, in spite of her turn to video, was affirmed this year in Berlin when she was awarded the Fred Thieler prize for painting—making her both the first woman and the first artist using video to be so recognized. Whatever the medium, Dolven brings movement and emotion together in an uneasy relationship that questions assumptions about looking.

Dolven’s recent show presented paintings and video works under the banner of “puberty,” a title taken from Edvard Munch’s 1893 portrait of a girl sitting naked on a bed. A video of the same name (all works 2000) offered an uncanny rendition of Munch’s painting, complete with the overwhelming shadow that crowds the girl on the bed. One might almost take the video projection for a reconstruction of the original sitting session, except for the large earphones clamped on the young woman’s head, from which emerge the muffled sounds of a drum ’n’ bass sound track. As the girl shifts ever so slightly in response to the music, tapping a lone finger on her bare leg, an occasional lyric escapes: “I need a woman that holds me. Motherfucker.”

While the woman’s face in puberty remains hidden behind waves of reddish-brown hair, portrait with a cigarette provides a more direct confrontation, this time with a girl in a school uniform holding a burning cigarette. As the smoke rises and the ash lengthens, she blinks and swallows, abruptly turning music samples on and off by firing a remote control at the spectator. One never hears a whole tune, as she changes the music in the way one might flip through a history of painting. Dolven’s videos may be like animated paintings (an association underscored by the framed, portrait-scale DV screen used), but movement never looked so still, so quiet, or so intense. By restoring a sense of the time required to pose for a painting, Dolven augments the tension inherent in the act of seeing. When the long cigarette ash finally falls, one feels a great sense of relief.

In the adjoining room, three large-scale paintings—Will you love me tomorrow too I, II, and III—appear as lofty and hermetic as vestal virgins. Dolven places shades of white oil paint in undulating stripes on aluminum and then scrapes them off the hard surface. Something about these surfaces, with the remains of flattened air bubbles still showing, recalls freshly shaved skin. The paintings, however neutral, offer a feast for the eyes, with ephemeral reflections and shadows that come and go according to the light—but for the naked eye only, since in reproduction the paintings reveal nothing more than a blank space.

By placing these works together, Dolven seems to suggest that Minimalism isn’t just about eliminating images. It’s also about setting up limits for the spectator. Dolven always creates a frame—through sound or image—that keeps the spectator away from the work. Visual pleasure is not given away like candy but held behind a constantly shifting barrier so that the spectator is made to feel like an intruder. You may look at these frosty young beauties, but looking will only push you farther away.

Jennifer Allen